Congratulations, you’re pregnant! So savor that slice of triple layer death-by-chocolate cake you’ve been saving. Flavonoids are good for the heart, right? Then there’s the calcium in nachos, protein in that burger, and—hello! —veggies in the form of curly fries. It can be easy to find yourself sliding down the slippery slope of the justification trail by eating everything you’ve religiously abstained from for so long … in one day. But keep in mind that while these foods may carry some nutritional benefit, having a baby on board doesn’t magically give you the metabolism of a teen gymnast; submitting to every craving might not be such a great idea.
What are the ground rules? First and foremost, be sure to consult your doctor before embarking on any nutritional transformations. Picking the right foods can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t mean you have to forgo your favorite snacks. When else is it socially acceptable to eat French toast, fried Snickers and M&M’s smothered in ice cream with a side of pickle juice?
While gaining weight is expected during pregnancy, it should happen in a healthy way. Sure, 300 extra calories a day seems easy enough, but making sure they aren’t empty calories is the trick. During the first trimester, the USDA’s food pyramid suggests expecting moms aim for about:
- 3 cups dairy
- 3 cups vegetables
- 2 cups fruit
- 7 ounces grains
- 6 ounces meat or beans
During the second and third trimesters, each of these values only increases by about 1/2 cup or 1 to 2 ounces. Making the best food choices within these groups (like whole wheat vs. white bread) ensures that you and your baby are taking advantage of every essential vitamin and mineral.
Strive for five
Taking a prenatal vitamin can help you meet daily requirements when your diet falls short. Vitamins and minerals are essentially the building blocks for your baby’s development, so when it comes to targeting specifics, strive for five:
- B-6 and B-1 (thiamin) aid in the development of baby’s brain and nervous system and have also been linked to calming morning sickness. While B-6 can be found in bananas and chickpeas (any excuse for hummus!), eggs are a good source of thiamin—just don’t ditch the yolks.
- Calcium prevents you from a future of osteoporosis. Since whatever calcium your baby lacks he’ll take from your bones, you’ll want to hit the dairy! Lactose intolerant? No problem: Calcium is also abundant in tofu, spinach and broccoli.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are easily found in salmon and leafy green veggies. They not only increase your heart health, but aid in the brain and eye development of your baby as well.
- Folic acid has been confirmed by the CDC to reduce the risk of neural tube defects by 50 to 70 percent when taken before conception and throughout the first trimester. Go ahead and stock up on fruits and veggies like oranges and spinach.
- Iron and vitamin E both aid in the generation of red blood cells. While iron kick starts the placenta’s formation, vitamin E targets muscle growth, so don’t skimp on the steak or cashews—red meat and nuts are good sources of iron and vitamin E.
The amount of mercury in seafood calls for caution even when you’re not expecting, so while the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish can boost baby’s brainpower, pregnant moms should be leery of which fish they turn to. Older, larger fish contain higher levels of mercury that can cause damage to your baby’s developing nervous system. The next time you head to the grocery store, avoid the following FDA- and EPA-flagged fish: swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish; and instead opt for shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish or cod. Need an easier fix? Canned light tuna makes the FDA’s cut as well.